Estrangement of Ladakhis and LUTF
by Harish Thakur on 20 Dec 2008 2 Comments

Jammu & Kashmir largely comprises three distinct regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. The State has failed to evolve a unified identity due to its religious heterogeneity. The people of Jammu mostly profess Hinduism and are Duggars, Chibbals, and Paharis; Kashmiris are predominantly Muslims and belong to Bombas, Khakas, Durds and Hanjis; the people of Baltistan resemble Tibetans and Ladakh is predominantly Buddhist. All three regions have distinct opinions about their political relationships with India.

Ladakh is largest in area (about 70% of the state) but sparsely inhabited (only 2.28% of the population). Kashmir, about 11% of the area, has about 53.50% of the population, while Jammu region has 19% of the area and about 47% of the population.  J & K has many peculiar features and no two regions are alike so far as cultural, linguistic and communal attributes are concerned, a heterogeneity unseen in any other state.

Since the ascent to power of Jammu-based Dogras, there has been a tug of war between these regions, each upholding its interests in a different way. Kashmir wants more autonomy while Jammu and Ladakh have taken varied stances, ranging from separate statehood or Union Territory status to merger with other states.

In this intra-regional battle of dominance, Ladakh is the worst sufferer. It is sparsely populated, backward partially because of the difficult terrain but mainly because of sheer neglect by successive state regimes. This discrimination provoked the demand for UT status by the Ladakh Buddhist Association, now espoused by the Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF) formed in 2008.

The sense of relative deprivation among Ladakhis vis-à-vis Kashmir and Jammu has brewed much discontent. Moreover, the Muslim-majority area of Kargil within Ladakh has been overshadowed by Valley militants, which adds to the complexity of the problem. The grant of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council to the district of Leh in 1995 has not pacified the Leh Buddhists. 

Estrangement of Ladakhis

Over the decades, Ladakh has turned into a hotspot of power rivalry not so much at state level as within the region; this has splintered the region. Stanzin Dawa laments that recent politics in Leh lacks clarity of purpose, vision and morality: it is highly inflammatory and encourages fragmentation in the name of parties, sects, castes, region, and damaging rather than developing Ladakh.

The ethnic discrimination and regional dominance of Kashmiris has been established by several events since independence. But the latest surge of anger and protest can be traced back to 7 July 1989, when in minor scuffle between Buddhist and Muslim youth in Leh’s main bazaar led to police firing against Buddhist protestors, killing three. The State Government’s refusal to appoint an enquiry commission further antagonized the Buddhists of Ladakh, and communalized their perspective about the incident. Police arrested the President of the Buddhist Association, Thupsthan Chhewang, a member of Ladakh’s former royal family. The Ladakh unrest adds a dangerous dimension to a generally deteriorating political situation in Jammu &Kashmir, India’s most sensitive border state.

Ladakh Buddhists feel they are treated as a colony. Their main grievance is under-representation of Ladakhis in state services. The J&K Secretariat has only one Buddhist employee. Out of nearly 2 lakh state employees, only 2900 are Ladakhis; there are no Buddhists among 18000 employees of nine corporate sector units.  While Rs. 250 million was disbursed under the World Bank-aided Social Forestry Schemes, Leh district was ignored. It also received no share in funds disbursed by the Central Land Development Bank and the Khadi and Village Industries Corporation. Between 1987 and 1989, the State Government received more than Rs. 1 billion from the Prime Minister’s Special Assistance Fund, but Leh got only Rs. 2.1 million.

The state government has been accused of adopting unrealistic norms for allocation of Plan funds to Ladakh, and of neglecting the power sector. Srinagar refused the Central Energy Minister’s proposal of two NHPC projects in Leh and Kargil districts in 1988. Micro Hydel Projects at Basgo, Sumur, and Hunder are yet to be commissioned despite being launched a decade ago. Work on several projects like Kumdok, Tagste and Bogdang is slow (discussed in detail by Navnita Chadha Behera, South Asia Terrorism Portal).

Ladakhis, especially Buddhists, are skeptical about their cultural identity as fissures have emerged within the community. Ladakhis of Kargil, mostly Muslims, have developed a different notion of autonomy as they no longer desire UT status. The Kargil Muslims have developed a new Shia-consciousness inspired by Iran’s Khomeini. There is also a reformist Islamia school with a large following in the district. The transformation is so profound that women have exchanged the traditional Ladakhi attire for the ‘Hijab.’

Leh Buddhists lament over conversions to Islam, girl abductions and planned population aggression which is turning Buddhists into a minority. In 1992, the Ladakh Muslim Association and Ladakh Buddhist Association even signed an agreement at the intervention of Ministry of Home Affairs, ensuring that Buddhists converted to the Islamic fold would be allowed to return to the mother religion; but the commitment was not honoured by the Muslims.

The politics of communalisation dates back to the time of G.M. Sadiq, who promoted a new band of Buddhist Lamas under Kushak Thikse to undermine Kushak Bakula, chief of the Ladakh Buddhist Association. Separate Muslim leaders were promoted from Kargil. Since the early sixties, the differences between Kargil Muslims and Leh Buddhists became evident as paltry incidents of stoning of mosques and desecration of Buddhist flags started taking place. The political affiliation of Kargilites was primarily with the Valley; hence they rejected the option of a ‘Kargil Autonomous Hill Council,’ which was regarded as a truncation of the Valley by Kashmiris. The people of Kargil also reject the ‘Leh-centric’ notion of Ladakh and preferred to be distinguished from other Ladakhis.

Within Kargil, the Buddhist-majority area of Zanskar (about 22000 population) feels deprived of economic development and social and political rights. Zanskar has been demanding a separate Assembly constituency and Sub-Hill Development Council, but Kargil Muslims reject this as they have already turned down the option of Autonomous Hill Development Council. But elections to the Kargil Autonomous Hill Development Council held in September 2008 saw Independents (supported by Islamia school and Kargil alliance) win 17 seats, National Conference 6, Congress 1 and LUTF 2.

Ladakhis have a long list of sorrows (see Times of India, 25 January 2008) about the discrimination meted out to them by the Valley-based leadership:

1] The Valley has 46 State assembly seats, against 41 of Jammu and Ladakh, in sharp contrast to the total geographical and population weightage of Jammu and Ladakh. 

2] Over 2,30,000 out of 2,40,000 governmental and semi-governmental positions in the Valley are cornered by Kashmiris, while they take more than 25 percent of jobs in Jammu and Ladakh. 

3] Out of 35 posts of state commissioners and secretaries, 31 are cornered by the Valley. 

4] The people of Jammu and Ladakh have secured only 15,000 jobs out of 1,55,000 recruits in government services since 1996. 

5] All professional and technical institutions, universities and big public sector units in the Valley are the sole preserve of Kashmiris. 

6] More than 50 percent seats in Jammu’s ill-equipped and understaffed medical and engineering colleges go to Valley students; similarly in the Sher-e- Kashmir Agriculture University. Ladakh is worst-hit as no institution exists there. 

7] Jammu and Ladakh contribute over 90 percent to the state exchequer, but get very little by way of development. 

8] There has never been a chief minister from Ladakh or Jammu. 

9] The Bhoti language that is common to Ladakhis is ignored by the Valley-based leadership and Urdu is imposed as the official language.

The Ladakhi Buddhist Association presented a memorandum to the central government in 1999. It point out that between 1992 - 1999, 24 Buddhist girls from Leh were converted to Islam and most were taken to Kargil; 12 villages with hamlets of Buddhists, comprising 651 families (about 5000 persons) located 40 to 60 kms. in the vicinity of Kargil were targetted for conversions; till 2002, 72 boys and girls were converted to Islam according to a survey by the Ladakh Buddhist Association.

The LBA said that Kargil Muslims did not allow it to repair and reconstruct a 40-year-old Gompa, which is still lying in shambles. The cremation of Buddhists was not allowed in Kargil and bodies had to be moved to remote Buddhist areas. No Buddhist Sarai was allowed to be constructed in Kargil, though six new mosques were constructed in Leh during 1989-99, close to Buddhists habitations, and about 540 Muslin families of Kargil settled in the town in a planned way.

Kargil has 20% Buddhist population yet only one Buddhist was appointed as Patwari out of 24; and in 1998, 40 Class IV employees were appointed in Education Department and the sole Buddhist was recruited only after conversion to Islam!

Similar discrimination occurs in recruitment to the Kashmir Administrative Services, admissions to medical and engineering colleges, and allocation of development funds from the Centre. Mr. Samphal, President of the Ladakh Buddhist Association, demanded Home Ministry intervention over the conversion of 39 Buddhist students by Christian missionaries.  The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council and the other political organs are crippled by the non-cooperation of the District Commissioner and Police Superintendent.

Ladakhis are peeved over the UPA Government’s atttitude as the name of world famous “Sindhu Darshan” was changed to “Ladakh Singhey Khabab Spring Festival”, on the specious ground that “Sindhu Darshan” sounds of “Hindu Darshan.”

LUTF and the Tentative Paradigms of Governance

The apathy and persistent discrimination by the state governments led local people to unite under Thupstan Chhewang, MP, and form the Ladakh Union Territory Front in 2002. Its chief objective is to struggle for Union Territory status for Ladakh; include the Bhoti language in the Eighth Schedule of Indian Constitution; reopen the Leh-Kailash Mansarovar Marg for pilgrimage; and redress police atrocities committed on the elected representatives and leaders of Ladakh.

Last year, on 24 December, an LUTF delegation met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and urged him to expedite UT status to Ladakh. Sadly, the state coalition was indifferent towards the issue, and Mufti Mohamed Sayeed spoke only of delegation of more powers to LAHDC, more out of political compulsion than real concern for Ladakh. The National Conference is opposed to UT status as it goes against the spirit of Indian secularism. Former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad also did not support the demand.

There is thus a stalemate for the Buddhists of Leh and Zanskar.

The author teaches political science in Shimla

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top